We drove less than an hour to Williams Lake. Starting in the mid-nineties, this town, best known as the site of a summer rodeo, has become popular for freeriding, a style of mountain biking tailored to fearless thrill chasers and stark raving nut jobs (with a good deal of overlap). Standard equipment includes body armor and bulky 30- to 40-pound full-suspension bikes designed for stability, for riders who are arguably not designed for stability. "You could fill a garbage truck with all the frames that get broke in this town," said Merle McAssey, co-owner of Adrenalin Mountain Adventures, a touring company at the heart of the tight-knit local cult of riders. In the past year, Merle has racked up an anatomically improbable four broken collarbones. "A right, then a left, then both at the same time," he explained cheerfully over dinner at the Overlander Hotel. "We all have the same surgeon."
Earlier, we had ventured out on a ride with half a dozen local hardcores down a fir-wooded slope on the edge of town, along a trail called Mitch's Brew. (Mitch himself didn't come; he'd recently had a titanium rod inserted into his leg.) Threading through the trees like hummingbirds, we paused to watch members of the group launch furious aerials off a wooden trestle that ended abruptly, 15 feet above the ground, like a Salvador Dalí bridge, and ramps, assembled from logs and planks, that emptied onto 30 feet of uninterrupted air. The riders seemed motivated not by machismo but by raw exuberance, tracing tightrope lines down slick fallen logs, whooping and egging one another on. "Feeling pretty punched, hey?" "Pure, total commitment, hey?"
During the ride, we had assumed that these were likely the sort of people who don't bother holding down steady jobs, who sleep on friends' couches to save up for more gear, who subsist on ramen noodles. But over dinner, we learned that the gonzo crew in fact consisted of a pharmacist, a pair of engineers, an industrial electrician, and, appropriately, a trauma nurse. During the previous week's lunar eclipse, 14 riders had donned headlamps and set out on a moonlight descent down Desous Mountain, a local freeriding hot spot, performing drops and jumps and launches until midnight. "I think the philosophy for us," Merle said, "is to expand people's notions of what's possible." Soaring loonies, indeed.